Over the last 15 years I have spent in the service industry, I have had to change my approach. 15 years ago, I was a gangly 6-foot tall 125-pound server with a voice somewhere in the Justin Bieber range. I looked only slightly older than him. A head of grey hair has made me change my demeanor a bit. Nowadays I can pull off the professional waiter role as well as most anyone. The only thing I haven’t learned to control is the shade of red I turn when blushing at awkward situations.
In the past I have written about moments I have made awkward. There are still the “foot in mouth” moments that cause me to be extremely embarrassed. I have not learned to control the physiological response of turning red enough that if I was a lobster, someone would pull me out of the pot. The thing that was left out of the previous post was the fact that I do not cause most of these situations. While I do create awkward situations from time to time, most of the time the blame falls firmly on the guests.
While awkward situations can come from any number of sources, medical professionals cause a great deal of them for me. Doctors and nurses are surrounded with situations that would make most people uncomfortable on a daily basis. It is only natural that they are at ease with these topics. This means that an hour and a half dinner presentation on urinary tract infection will not faze them. As a male server though it is all still far too much information. Still that dinner pales in comparison to the one that really stands out in my head.
A fellow server who was working a banquet in our private dining room asked me to help him run trays. He is a good guy and I had time so I followed him out. As I walked into the room to hand out entrees, I made the mistake of looking at the 6×6 projection screen on the wall. It turns out that the meeting was a group of urologists discussing new penile straightening surgeries. On the screen, and about 5 feet tall, was a crooked penis. I looked away and handed out plates at double speed to get myself out of the room before I started blushing or laughing.
Still I think most awkward moments are at the hands of couples. You have not experienced awkward until you share a couple’s most painful moments. Restaurants should be a place to celebrate. Occasionally this plan goes awry though. Three times in my career I have experienced a “she said no” moment. This occurs with an unsure boyfriend brings his girlfriend into a restaurant to propose. Usually the whole staff is aware that this is going to happen and when it fails the whole staff also knows. The one certainty I have discovered about this situation is that I have never seen a “no” occur at dessert. If you have the confidence to make it that long, you generally know the answer. It is the guys who are unsure that ask before the appetizers. This means at least an hour of awkward heartbroken silence that the server gets to share in.
Even couples that make it to the altar can create these sort of embarrassing moments. I have seen couples so passionately in love that they want to share it with the world. I generally find this very romantic. I say “generally” because when this passion manifests itself in physical ways, I have no desire to see it. The napkin goes on your lap. It does not go on the hand on your lap.
This brings me to the inspiration for this post. Last night I may have accidentally created my most awkward moment ever. A couple celebrating came in. They apologized for running late, but said the limo driver took a while to get them there. After ordering, they handed me their camera to take a picture of them. Somewhere during this hand off either the husband or myself hit a button by accident. When I raised the camera and looked at the screen I saw the 12 most recent pictures in thumbnail format. It is sufficient to say that they were making very interesting use of their time in the limo. The problem was that the camera was not on the proper setting to take the picture. I hand it back to the husband and when the wife sees this she turns pale. I accordingly turn bright red and take the picture. There were 4 more awkward courses to come.
I am not sure after another 15 years in this business I will be able to respond to such things unflinchingly. I was born with a natural alarm to respond to awkward situation. Sometimes I wonder why other people lack such an alarm or even the ability to notice. Just as I think I have seen it all, I have an incident like last night. Which reminds me that no matter how uncomfortable my job gets sometimes, there is always going to be a new reason to blush.